William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.Proverbs Chapter 20
Here are brought together the great danger of certain follies on the one hand, and the value of wisdom and fidelity on the other.
"Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler; and whoso erreth thereby is not wise.
"The terror of a king is as a lion's roaring; he that provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul.
"It is for a man's honour to keep aloof from strife; but every fool will rush in.
"The slothful will not plow by reason of the winter: in harvest shall he beg and have nothing.
"Counsel in man's heart [is] deep water; and a man of understanding draweth it out.
"Most men will proclaim every one his own kindness; but a faithful man who can find?
"A righteous one walketh in his integrity: blessed [are] his children after him." vv. 1-7.
There is no creature of God which has not an important place if used aright. But men blind to His will seek their pleasure heedlessly, and are thus enticed to open sin and grievous hurt. This is eminently the case with wine and strong drink; the one deceives, the other maddens. The warnings are so many and evident on every side, that such as err thereby have only to blame their own folly and self-will.
Rulers are not a terror to good work but to the evil. Nor does the king bear the sword in vain. He is ordained as God's servant, an avenger for wrath to him that does evil. The terror he inspires is therefore as a lion's roar. To provoke his anger is to sin against one's own soul. That again is sheer folly and wrong. Would you then have no fear of an authority so able to punish? Do that which is good, and you shall have praise from it.
Nor is there a more common snare than meddling where we have no business or duty. To this the self-sufficient are prone. Their vanity leads them to accredit others with failure, and themselves with wisdom. They are the men of common sense and of righteousness, if others are more brilliant. Hence in their folly they rush into that strife from which the right-minded hold aloof to their honour.
But there is also danger from one's own slothfulness, which is exemplified in its paralyzing the ordinary call to labour. It is ordered of God as the rule that plowing time should not be when things grow, and still less when they ripen. But a sluggard finds an excuse for putting off his duty in the cold weather which invites him to strenuous industry. Does he plead the winter against plowing? Then shall he beg in harvest and have nothing.
If there be thus from laziness danger of neglect in the proper season, and from officious vanity whenever a thorny question arises, it all goes to show the worth of intelligence, and the need of taking pains in order to arrive at it. For the truly wise are not superficial; but counsel in their heart is "deep water," instead of bubbling over on every occasion, however slight. And few things mark a man of understanding more than discerning ability to draw it out.
It is the common failing of men to affect a world-wide benevolence, and to cheat themselves into the belief that their talk and tears over the widow and the orphan are real kindness of no ordinary sort. Let us beware of walking in so vain a show, and remember that the Word of God raises the question whether the reality is in deed and truth. "A faithful man who shall find?"
Such souls however there are in a world where faith is rare, and most love glory from men rather than glory from God, though the one be as evanescent as it is vain, and the other as everlasting as it is substantial. "The righteous walketh in his integrity: blessed [are] his children after him." God is a rewarder of them that seek Him out; nor is it only the blessing of a good conscience in his walk; but God does not forget his children after him. So even King David could not but feel toward Chimham, if Barzillai sought nothing for himself.
In verses 8-14 we have maxims laid down from the king on his throne down to the commonest trickery of life in everyday transactions, with moral cautions salutary to all.
"A king that sitteth in the throne of judgment scattereth away all evil with his eyes.
"Who can say, I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin?
"Divers weights (a stone and a stone), divers measures (an ephah and an ephah), both of them [are] alike abomination to Jehovah.
"Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work [be] pure, and whether right.
"The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, Jehovah made even both of them.
"Love not sleep lest thou come to poverty; open thine eyes - thou shalt be satisfied with bread.
"Naught, naught, saith the buyer; but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth." vv. 8-14.
If ever there was a king sitting on the throne, whose eyes in large measure scattered away all evil, it was he who wrote these words in the Spirit. Yet we have the sad tale of failure, so characteristic of man, and his eyes at length sanctioning evil most dishonouring to Jehovah and destructive to Israel. But He that inspired Solomon has ever a greater in view. "Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment." The time hastens.
Righteous souls may and do meanwhile groan; but they murmur not, still less resist the power, which is God's ordinance, nor plead conscience to evade law, but contrariwise are willing to suffer in obeying God. They know what man's state is, and that none can truly say, I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin. Their boast is in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom they now received the reconciliation.
But there is no excuse for cheating; against which high and low, poor and rich, yea, and dishonest no less than honest, exclaim loudly. What is more than all, such deliberate roguery is an abomination to Jehovah, who is infinitely removed from all selfish feeling.
Evil may for a time be hidden under many a plea or cloak. But good needs no commendation. Even a child is known by his doings; a pure or a right work is plain.
The hearing ear is a wonderfully beneficent mechanism, the seeing eye of still wider scope for the race in matters of this life. How humbling is the unbelief of the would-be wise who try to persuade themselves and others that Jehovah made neither! Even a heathen like Galen felt and confessed that the hand which made them was divine. If Gnosticism is impious pride, Agnosticism is man sinking to the brute, yet boastful withal.
If man has no heart to thank God for his rest by night, and to seek His guidance and blessing by day, the very sun that performs His bidding calls man to go forth to his work till the evening, as much as he chases the beasts of the forest into their dens. To be an idler, a sleeper, during the hours of light, is to court poverty. To open one's eyes fittingly; that is, for work, is to be satisfied with bread. None needs to beg if in earnest.
How low is the effort to deceive the seller by depreciation! How false to boast of the mean advantage, if it succeed (v. 14)! But such are the ways of covetousness, as common a snare as can be found for the heart of man, and most hateful to the God of all grace.
In verses 16-23 we are shown what is of real value, far beyond gold, the object of most men, and rubies, the desired prize of rich folk.
"There is gold, and a multitude of rubies; but the lips of knowledge [are] a precious jewel.
"Take his garment that is become surety [for] another, and hold him in pledge for a strange woman.
"Bread of falsehood [is] sweet to man, but afterward his mouth shall be filled with gravel.
"Purpose is established by counsel, and with wise guidance make war.
"He that goeth about tale-bearing revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that openeth (enticeth with) his lips.
"Whoso curseth his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in the blackest darkness.
"An inheritance hastily gotten at the beginning will not be blessed at the end.
"Say not, I will recompense evil: wait on Jehovah, and he will save thee.
"Divers weights [are] an abomination to Jehovah; and a false balance [is] not good."
Never was there a day in the world's annals when men might more easily possess themselves of gold than when Solomon reigned, never one when precious stones so freely poured than then into Jerusalem. But knowledge duly expressed was far rarer and yet more valuable; and so it is still.
Inconsiderateness is a direct road to ruin, even if one listens to spendthrifts of one's family. But what happens when a man is so weak as to become surety for a stranger? Yet worse is it, when he listens to a strange woman. You may relieve him of his raiment at once.
Again, if one eat the bread of deceit, and instead of trembling at the sin, find it sweet, what will the end be? Surely to fill the mouth with gravel; God is not mocked.
Counsel is requisite to form and execute a purpose, and especially if one go to war. But if one needs wise guidance, what more dangerous than to listen to an active talebearer, unless it be to a flatterer?
To honour one's parents was the first commandment with promise; what can be the issue but deepest darkness to him that curses either?
So too the hastily gotten inheritance is apt to slip soon, having no blessing from God.
But it is a dangerous thing to keep a grudge, and hope to repay it. God is jealous, but withal gracious. On Him let one wait and prove His saving mercy, as David did.
Cheating is His abomination, and a balance of deceit is not good, but for destruction.
It is very certain that dependence on God alone secures a clean or righteous walk. So it was of old; so it is now. Man needs direction from above, and grace too, that in this world of pitfalls and confusion his ways may please the Lord. This is most impressively pointed out in verses 24-30.
"The steps of a man [are] from Jehovah; and how can a man understand his own way?
"[It is] a snare to a man rashly to say, [It is] holy, and after vows to make inquiry.
"A wise king scattereth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them.
"Man's spirit [is] Jehovah's lamp, searching all the chambers of the belly.
"Mercy and truth preserve the king, and his throne is upholden by mercy.
"The glory of young men [is] their strength; and the beauty of old men the hoary head.
"Wounding stripes purge away evil, and strokes [purge] the chambers of the belly."
It is not a weak one's goings but a strong man's which are here said to be from Jehovah; how blessed, as well as necessary to know Him who knows the end from the beginning to whom the night shines as the day, and the darkness is as the light! Him faith can count on to direct the steps.
Jephthah was rash in the vow he made, but he stood to it and bore the consequence. Not so Ananias and Sapphira; but their deception did not shield them from death. We are bound to weigh seriously what we say before God, and not to retract for selfish reasons.
A wise ruler is not one who is too amiable to punish the wicked. The very aim and reason of his office is to be God's minister in externals, and a terror not to a good work, but to an evil one. It is the more imperative, if men conspire, to scatter them and crush their power fearlessly.
Man's spirit is Jehovah's lamp, and so, far beyond that of a beast that goes downward. But it is going beyond Scripture to boast of the great soul of man, and against Scripture to say that it is the light which lighteth every man. For this is Christ alone; and the real meaning of John 1:9 is, that the True Light is that which, coming into the world, lightens, or sheds light on, every man. It had been another state before He came thus. The Incarnate Word so deals with every man, high or low, Jew or Gentile. Conscience is a solemn inward monitor for God against sin. Christ when He came did incomparably more - made every one and thing manifest in due character. Divines for ages are apt to talk like the Friends or the heathen; how little they have learned Christ!
Here again we learn that the king is preserved, not by inflexible firmness against the wicked, but by "mercy and truth." Negative qualities fail to sustain. "His throne is upholden by mercy" - a godlike prerogative. He needs love as well as fear, not only for the people's happiness, but for the stability of his rule.
It is folly and blindness to set young against old, instead of helping them to profit by an experience of great value which they lack. Let the old admire the energy of the young, and the young fail not to own the beauty of the grey head.
Stripes that wound, we all need from time to time, for nothing less probes and cleanses the hidden evil that is at work. The deeper the mischief, the more painful the corrective that must pierce to its core. Such a chastening is not pleasant, but causes grief. Afterward it yields peaceful fruit of righteousness to those exercised thereby.
The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion: whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul.
It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.
The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing.
Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.
Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?
The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.
A king that sitteth in the throne of judgment scattereth away all evil with his eyes.
Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?
Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the LORD.
Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.
The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD hath made even both of them.
Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty; open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread.
It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.
There is gold, and a multitude of rubies: but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.
Take his garment that is surety for a stranger: and take a pledge of him for a strange woman.
Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.
Every purpose is established by counsel: and with good advice make war.
He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.
Whoso curseth his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness.
An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed.
Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee.
Divers weights are an abomination unto the LORD; and a false balance is not good.
Man's goings are of the LORD; how can a man then understand his own way?
It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make inquiry.
A wise king scattereth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them.
The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly.
Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy.
The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head.
The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.